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Home sweet home for Alfredsson

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
GOTHENBURG, Sweden — From the moment his eyes first caught a glimpse of that familiar coast line, Daniel Alfredsson's heart began to beat a little bit faster.

There really is no place like home, as the old saying goes.

The Ottawa Senators landed in Sweden this morning, a little weary from an overnight trip across the Atlantic Ocean but with a bit of a jump in their step about the most historic start to a season in modern-franchise history. Nobody more than Alfredsson, who's returing to his hometown for the first time with his National Hockey League team.

"You can tell he’s a little bit giddy," Senators centre Jason Spezza said after watching Alfredsson go through his first practice at the Scandinavium, the rink in which the Senators captain learned to play and truly love the game. "He’s got his family around. I think it’s a pretty special thing for a European guy to play some games in his hometown and your home country."

It was a reception almost fit for a rock star, Photographers and camera crews filled the bench alongside the boards during the Senators practice, eager to capture images of Alfredsson's every move on the ice. The kind of crush North American hockey fans might feel is reserved for the Stanley Cup final and little else.

But it will be no ordinary exhibition game on Thursday night, when the Frolunda Indians — Alfredsson's former club team — face off with the Senators in front of a full house of 12,044 at the Scandinavium. The game sold out in 16 minutes when tickets were first made available to hockey fans in Sweden's second-largest city.

"Flying in, coming in over the sea, I recognized where we are and it was pretty fun," Alfredsson told a packed press conference in the arena as he tried to sum up the excitement he and his hometown are feeling. "Everyone’s excited about being here as well and I’m really excited."

It is a day Alfredsson has admitted he never thought would happen. He returned to Frolunda colours during the NHL lockout season of 2004-05 and led his old team to a Swedish Elite League title. But to arrive on such familiar shores with his NHL team in Ottawa?

"I never could have seen this. It's unbelievable," Alfredsson's father, Hasse, said in greeting some familiar media faces from Ottawa.

"Obviously, there's a lot of memories here," the Senators captain said. "I went to school right across the street and spent a lot of time in this neighbourhood. It’s all good memories and a lot of fun to be here with Ottawa. I’ve spent most of my adult life there and I’ve been telling everyone about Gothenburg and Sweden and how great it is, and it’s fun to bring them here (to show them)."

If today was any indication, it will be the most memorable of weeks for Gothenburg, too. Long after most of his teammates had left the ice, Alfredsson was still handling a slew of interview requests from Swedish media. But if all of this will take any toll on him — and might hamper his performance when the Senators move on to Stockholm next weekend to open the regular season against the Pittsburgh Penguins — Alfredsson isn't saying so.

"I don’t think it’s going to be the best circumstance but it’s good enough for us," he said. "I really like that after we play Saturday and Sunday, that we don’t play again until (Oct. 11), so we’ll have time to adjust. It could be a big boost for us as well, so I look at it as only a positive thing for us and a great experience.

"We’re going to hang out as a team here for the whole week and it’ll be good bonding time for us."

Added Senators head coach Craig Hartsburg: "Alfie’s a pro and he understands what’s at stake in that first game against Pittsburgh. But it’s exciting for him. He’s been a great player in our league and he’s certainly, over here in Sweden, one of their most popular athletes. It’s a great time for him."

The rest of the Senators, meanwhile, aim to share the joy that is so clear in their beloved captain's heart.

"We expected this," said linemate Dany Heatley. "He’s got to be excited to be coming back. It’s not too often (that you get) to come back to your hometown and play in the NHL against your old team. I’m excited and I think all the guys are excited for him."

Around the boards

Centre Mike Fisher skated for the first time with the team since tweaking a groin last week and said he'll definitely be good to go against the Penguins. "I feel like it’s progressed very well," he said. "I’m hoping to play Thursday. I think with a couple more practices, I should be fine for Thursday" ... After experimenting with splitting up his big three during the pre-season, Hartsburg has decided he'll reunite Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley to start the regular schedule. "You don’t keep (the same) four lines together for 82 games. That’s how it goes," said Hartsburg. "Our team needs those guys to be our best players. At this time, I think it’s best for our team to start them that way."

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